It's official. I have the disease. The famous first step of AA's 12-step program is admission that you are an addict. So here I am, admitting to the widest audience possible, the world wide web, that I am a running (& racing?) addict. You may argue that this is the healthiest addiction one can have, and if you are reading this blog or have stumbled upon it by accident, chances are, you may be an addict too...or very close to the edge! But an addiction is an addiction, and before you know it, it can become the monster that consumes your life.
This morning, I found myself on the upper East side of Manhattan, wearily trudging toward the offices of Dr. Jordan Metzl, Sports Physician, affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery. I was wearing running clothes, and carrying a backpack crammed with 3 pairs of recently-used running shoes. Dr. Metzl was just the latest in the long string of specialists I have been trying out, in my quest to find an answer to the tendon affliction that has been wrecking my peace of mind.
A year ago, I would have been striding purposefully toward my destination, hopeful that I would be miraculously restored, and that I would power my way through a marathon training program, which would seal my place at the Boston marathon. BQ! Ah! So much more valuable to me than a PhD, MD, JD or any other coveted acronym; and just as distant.
Today, I just felt resigned to whatever fate may throw my way. After a gazillion attempts to solve the issue, I guess what still kept me trying was the now-remote possibility that someone, anyone, may come up with a more dramatic answer than, "You need more strengthening", or "You need to stretch more", or "You need new shoes every 100 miles" or "You need orthotics". Believe me, I've tried everything (within the realm of reason. I haven't resorted to witchcraft...yet; though my latest therapist has been referred to as "the guru"). I stretch as far as my aging body will allow me. Every day without fail, I drag my groaning body through a half hour of strengthening, on top of whatever cardio I subject it to. I guess I just kept hoping that someone will someday find, say, a bone out of place that needs to be surgically removed, or a nerve that needs to be acupunctured into submission. And after the procedure, I could be the carefree runner that I so wanted to be, planning 18-week marathon training programs with gay abandon, without worrying myself sick that I may break down at week 5. But that hope has been drastically tempered by reality. I now just want to be able to run without pain, something I have been unable to do since mid-November. I want to enjoy my runs again, instead of wincing at the thought of stepping out for a run. I want to be able to run with and hang out with my running buddies again (I run solo these days, so I can stop any time I have to. I have stopped hanging out at club events, because it is too painful...physically painful to run, and emotionally painful to hang out with people who casually pump out 50-100 miles every week including tempos and intervals, and then casually throw in a race or two a week, for good measure).
In Metzl's waiting room, I picked up a dog-eared copy of People magazine, and read about Gabby Giffords' remarkable recovery, hoping that it may help lift my spirits. Sure enough, it kicked me right out of my self-pity, and into self-loathing for pitying myself (you see what a vicious cycle this is!). My wallowing was interrupted when my name was called. I was showed into an examination room, where I spent the next 15 minutes reading a framed article by Metzl about his experience at the Kona Ironman. It was written in 2006, when the doc had completed 25 marathons and a few Ironman distance triathlons. I forced myself to hope. I had never seen a sports doctor/therapist who was also a runner. The closest was a cyclist. (The worst was an orthopedic surgeon who believed than human beings should not be running). The walls of the room carried 6 Best Doctor of the year plaques, all belonging to Metzl, every year from 2006 to 2011. This was beginning to look promising!
When Dr. Metzl walked in, I allowed myself to gush a little, waving to the wall, and telling him how impressive I thought all that 'Ironman'ing was. He gave me a polite, indulgent smile, but quickly turned me back to the business at hand. He certainly didn't seem to need complimenting, he must hear that a lot. So, I switched the spotlight to myself, and began my saga of injury, while rolling up my warm-up pants and running tights and pointing to the injured area. After listening for about 20 seconds, he touched the troublesome tendon, then asked me to stand, which I did. He glanced at my feet, then said, "No offense, but you have no leg strength". Before I could respond, he told me with finality that he did not believe in Physical Therapy and used the opportunity to talk about his soon-to-be-published book on preventing injury by strengthening routines you could do at home; he briskly 'prescribed' Superfeet, an off-the-shelf orthotic sold at New York Running Company, emailed me the link to a strength training routine to be repeated thrice a week, told me to come back and see him in 6 weeks, then repeated all of this into his recording machine while I watched open-mouthed. All this happened in the span of 2 minutes. I tried to gather my wits, and make a comeback, "How can you tell I have no leg strength?" I mean, the guy had barely seen me. There was no testing of muscle strength whatsoever. I had 2 layers of pants and was not exactly flexing my muscles. I was understandably indignant. In a few seconds, he had completely belittled all those hours I had spent on 'strengthening'. "I can see you have no muscle. No offense", he repeated, while flashing me that ingratiating smile. I felt deflated. All the fight left me. The fact that his recorder had documented that I was a "delightful woman" didn't help. I weakly told him that I had a few questions. He gave me the indulgent smile again, and a look that signaled, "I am done with you, but can humor you for a few seconds if you like. But a few seconds is all I'll give you. Let me get back to my patients who have REAL problems". Trust me, I have been in doctors' offices enough to know THAT SMILE. All my questions remained unasked. I suddenly realized that there was no point.
At the running store, I met the nicest guy Matt, who was not only knowledgeable, but also sympathetic to my tale of woe. He fitted me with Superfeet, watched me run on the treadmill, patiently answered all my questions, and willingly shared his experiences on injury, running shoes and stretching. Thanks to him, I realized I had been mistakenly using the foam roller very liberally on my sore achilles tendon, imagining I was massaging my soleus! I would gladly have given him my copay. To thank him for his time, I bought myself a 'rolling' device from Trigger Point. I am trying to be positive about my visit to Dr. Metzl. After all, he didn't tell me anything different from what I've been hearing from others, though he was awfully blunt about it. The recommended solutions (aka orthotics/inserts and strengthening exercises) are different from specialist to specialist, and I often feel like I am going backwards, but at least the diagnoses are consistent. The answer is to figure out for myself how much my body can handle. And even the most experienced runners struggle with this.
In the meantime, I need to find my running mojo. Enjoy running for the sake of running, not get carried away by competing. Mix things up, go on hikes, find swimming holes, easy trail runs, rediscover the joy of being active. Remember why I used to love running so much.
DH summed it up well: "The only person who can cure you is you".